Cassette tapes have returned and they’re taking over the music industry. Well, maybe they’re not that popular, but within certain underground punk and indie circles, they have become a popular way once again for bands to release their music. One band that’s taken advantage of this format is Portland indie rock band the Woolen Men, who’ve put out a ton of lo-fi, small-run releases exclusively on tape—and they sell out of them quickly.
“Considering how quick we were recording, cassettes were very fast to duplicate. Obviously you could do DVRs, but we were recording to cassette tape on our four-track so it just made sense to continue on tape,” says drummer Raf Spielman “Doing limited run releases that you know are not going to exist for very long, it gives you some freedom to experiment, and try things out, so that when it does come time to make an LP you have all the kinks out of the system.”
The Woolen Men finally did release an LP last year—actually they released two. First, they compiled the best tracks from their many cassettes for their self-released LP, Dog Years. They followed that up with a self-titled LP, containing all new material, on Brooklyn record label Woodsist.
Like the rest of the Woodsist catalog, the Woolen Men’s self-titled record is influenced in equal parts by sunny ’60s psychedelic-pop and noisy ’80s post-punk. The songs are driven by Lawton Browning’s jangly guitar, Spielman’s minimalistic drumming and Alex Geddes’ punky, warm bass parts. They take turns singing. Their vocals are crooner-esque, but gritty, flawed and ultra-catchy.
Their LP with Woodsist was made just like their Dog Years compilation, only more quickly. They recorded upwards of 25 songs over the course of four separate recording sessions for the album, but only put 10 songs on the actual album.
The new album has a noticeably higher production value, at least compared to the muffled tape-recordings they’d been releasing, but that wasn’t so much an intentional move as their natural progression as a band.
“We were just getting the best that we could get, and now we’re just getting better at it. If you want to get good at something you have to do it a lot. We wanted to get good at recording ourselves and at writing. We just had to do it again and again,” says Spielman
One thing unchanged in the band’s formula is their penchant for short songs. Like ’90s lo-fi gods Guided By Voices, some of their songs are so short they end almost abruptly.
“The easiest way to say something is to say it with the most impact. And if you can do the chorus one time and get your message across, the repetition is just a waste of time,” says Lawton. “You can think of the Minutemen and their punk ethos, like really short, or the way the Wire songs sometimes just get in and get out. There’s just something really appealing about brevity,” says Lawton.
Wed, Feb 12, 8pm
Cafe Stritch, San Jose